There’s always an odd sense of anticipation before the first pre-season friendly of a new season. It’s a difficult emotion to explain to someone who lives outside the football bubble. More often than not they’re effectively two 45 minute contests; with two different XIs taking the field for each side, managers talk about ‘game time’ and ‘minutes under the belt’ no matter what the result and no player can be effectively judged positively or negatively. In other words, it’s a bit pointless from the perspective of your everyday fan.
Charlton’s annual curtain raiser at Park View Road against Welling United is the epitome of the above description. How could anyone get excited about a friendly against a non-league side? Charlton fans do. After two months away, it was a thrill for many to see their heroes in a red shirt once again. Uncharacteristic scorching hot weather also persuaded the 2,140 spectators to take their place in the terraces and seats for the friendliest of friendlies. A 5-0 victory for the Addicks greeted those hardy couple of thousand.
Normally, the first pre-season friendly is also a chance for fans to take a look at their club’s new signings, often joined by the occasional trialist. For Charlton, this wasn’t quite the case. The single summer signing, Mark Gower, was penned down to play in the second half, but three unfamiliar names to Addicks fans did start. Trialist Richard Wood, a free agent following the expiry of his contract at former club Coventry City, partnered Michael Morrison at centre back, whilst development squad players Morgan Fox and Joe Piggot started at left back and centre forward respectively. Nick Pope, on the back of making his debut in the final game of the season just gone, started in goal, whilst player of the year Chris Solly completed the back four. Yann Kermorgant, the only recognised first team striker left at the club, partnered Piggot up top, whilst Bradley Pritchard, Johnnie Jackson, Andy Hughes and Callum Harriott made up the midfield four.
The first half was a reward for those who chose to part with their money against common sense; a thrilling display from the Addicks left their Blue Square Premier League opponents overwhelmed. The first goal came after just nine minutes. Charlton broke from the back, Pritchard travelled with the ball and knocked the ball to Kermorgant who played a delightful ball into the path of Piggot. With Welling ‘keeper Sam Mott racing off his line, the young striker kept his composure and chipped the ball past the onrushing stopper.
Piggot doubled his and Charlton’s goal tally five minutes later. Jackson intercepted a loose Welling clearance just inside the opposition’s half and fed the ball through to Kermorgant who combined with Piggot once more for the 19-year-old to side foot finish coolly into the Welling net. There was still time for Piggot to add a third and grab his hat-trick just before the 40 minute mark. Again Kermorgant dinked the ball through to his young strike partner who attempted a similar finish to his first. Mott was equal to the chip, but not to the rebound as Piggot reacted quickest and squeezed the ball into the empty goal. Serial assister Kermorgant rounded off the first half scoring, curling the ball past Mott with the outside of his boot, to conclude a fantastic first half showing from the Addicks.
As expected, a second Charlton XI took the field for the second half. Lawrie Wilson took the captain’s armband and played alongside Leon Cort, Dorian Dervite and Cedric Evina in defence, whilst David Button replaced Pop in between the sticks. Evina’s inclusion raised hopes that the left back may yet sign an extension to his now expired contract. Gower, Danny Hollands and Dale Stephens made up a trio of centre midfielders, with Danny Green and Jordan Cook on either flank supporting the lone front man, Michael Smith.
The second half, in contrast to the exciting first, was rather dull. That’s possibly being too kind; from a Charlton perspective it was dire. It was Welling who created the better openings of the half. Button was called upon to make several outstanding saves; a reflex save from a flicked on header and a number of point blank saves from well hit efforts from inside the area stand out as the highlights of a fine keeping display. Charlton also had the bar to thank for their clean sheet, as a header from a Welling corner pinged off the top of the goal frame.
Charlton were limited to half chances, that was until Cook’s cross was handled by a Welling defender and the assistant referee on the near side touchline signalled for a penalty kick. Green successfully powered the ball beyond the reaches of the despairing Welling keeper to give the Addicks a five goal lead with just over five minutes to play. Smith had two chances to add a sixth, but Welling ‘keeper Turner was equal to his efforts, whilst Hollands hit the bar as the game drew to an end. Nothing more than a nice work out for Chris Powell’s men as they romped to a 5-0 win.
It’s hard to make any in depth analysis from a friendly against a club in the fifth tier of English football. Trialist Wood and youngster Fox had few opportunities to show their talents. In what would seem to be a contest between the two development squad strikers, Smith’s finishing was poor, whilst Piggot’s was impressive. It will certainly be interesting to see how those two fair in the remaining pre-season games.
From the first team players, two performances stand out. It was all too easy for Kermorgant, barely breaking a sweat in his brilliant display, whilst Button was made to work hard by the Welling attackers, who he was ultimately equal too.
The most promising piece of news, however, came away from the pitch. Chris Powell confirmed a desire to bring Jonathan Obika back to the club following his successful loan spell at the back of the season just gone, whilst adding he hoped to bring in at least five new names. A striker and the prospect of signings will help to calm those who were beginning to feel a little uneasy with the lack of transfer activity.